Exercise Does Not Make Up for Poor Eating Habits, Study Finds

People who have high levels of physical activity and eat nutritiously have better health than those who have high levels of physical activity and don’t eat nutritiously or those who eat nutritiously and don’t exercise, a study in BMJ Sports Medicine found.

Still, those who exercised or just ate nutritiously still lowered their risk of mortality, just to a lesser degree.

The study of 346,627 people in the United Kingdom who were UK Biobank participants. Researchers looked at how long people walked or did moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and how long they engaged in vigorous-intensity physical activity (VPA).

Researchers also looked at participants’ diet. A high-quality diet was considered to be one with 4.5 cups or more of vegetables or fruit per day, two or more servings of fish weekly, and less than five servings of red meat or less than two servings of processed meat each week.  

People who engaged in high levels of exercise and followed a nutritious diet had a 17 percent reduction in their risk of all-cause mortality compared to people who were inactive and ate low-quality food. The people with high levels in both physical activity and food quality also reduced their risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 19 percent and risk of physical activity, diet and adiposity-related (PDAR) cancer by 27 percent.

Just eating the highest-quality diet without exercising did not significantly reduce all-cause mortality risk or cardiovascular mortality risk, but it did reduce mortality risk of PDAR cancer by 14 percent.

In addition, people who had higher levels of MVPA had lower all-cause and PDAR cancer mortality risks than those in the least active group, and people with higher levels of VPA had lower risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease.

Cardiology dietitian Michelle Routhenstein told Medical News Today that she was not surprised by the study, considering she has people who come to her after suffering heart attacks who are physically active, even to the point of being marathoners. However, when she evaluates their lifestyle, she finds out that their diet is unbalanced.